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Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

Andy Coulson

A Year On: How Milly Dowler Shook the World, and Ended a Media Dynasty: FOTHOM XLIV

It’s hard to believe, but at 4pm BST today it will be exactly a year since Nick Davies and Amelia Hill published online a leak from Operation Weeting, the newly recreated (third) investigation into phone hacking, and revealed that the News of the World had hacked the phone of a missing 13 year old schoolgirl, who was found dead six months later, murdered by Levi Bellfield.

That headline changed the political scene here in the UK. Within days the News of the World had closed, and New Corp were forced to withdraw their takeover bid for Britain’s most lucrative broadcaster, BSkyB. Within two weeks James and Rupert Murdoch were summoned to appear before a Parliamentary select committee, and David Cameron was forced to set up the Leveson Inquiry.

Over the next year, the hacking scandal expanding to a corruption and bribery scandal at the News of the World’s sister paper, the best selling Sun. Over 50 people have now been arrested. An internal News Corp inquiry, the MSC – set up under pressure from the FBI, SEC and DOJ – has now handed over thousands of emails suggesting bribery of public officials. The scandal expanded to include allegations of TV piracy at News Corp’s pay-TV encryption services in Australia, the UK, Italy and the US.

But more than anything, for the UK, the Leveson Inquiry has shone a light into the dark corners of the political media class, and revealed such extensive back door lobbying between the Murdochs and the last five prime ministers, that it was almost like discovering a state within a state. And of course, with Rebekah Brooks, Andy Coulson and James Murdoch meeting virtually every day with David Cameron, George Osborne and Jeremy Hunt, the convergence over the last few years has been almost seamless. As a senior News International journalist expressed it to me:

The Court of Cameron and the Court of Murdoch have become almost totally enmeshed.

This last year has been an amazing journey for our country, and for me personally, as I became inextricably caught up in the coverage of the affair. My book, which explores those 14 days in July which ended a media dynasty – and the 50 years leading up to it – is in the final stages and due for publication at the end of the month.

Below I might share some of the book, particularly the reality of the Milly Dowler story, but mainly this diary is to share YOUR memories, to hear your thoughts about this momentous year.

FALL OF THE HOUSE OF MURDOCH XX: How Cameron got Seduced by Newscorp

This week’s testimony by News International’s former lawyers and executives turned into a bit of a damp squib (executives and lawyers boring? How’s that?). But with the start of the Leveson Inquiry, and further arrests by the three police teams now investigatiing phone hacking, computer hacking and corruption of police officials, there’s no danger this schadenfreudefestschrift is going to go away.

So let me take this relative calm to explore British Prime Minister’s  David Cameron’s disastrous decision to employ Andy Coulson, as his main media strategist.

It’s a fascinating tale, that gives a brilliant insight into what Gordon Brown described as the ‘criminal-media nexus‘ which explains the rise of Newscorp as the most powerful global media force.

FALL OF THE HOUSE OF MURDOCH VII – Brooks Arrested: Met Chief Resignation Bombshell: Cameron Next?

This initially was a lighthearted intermission diary, supposing this would be a quiet Sunday as News International tried to manage the chaos engulfing them. But I was wrong.

UPDATE: Sir Paul Stephenson, the Met Commissioner, Britain’s senior police officer, has resigned because of his connections with the scandal. More news as this comes in. But this is affecting all levels of the British establishment. I hear now that the Serious Fraud Office is making forays into the News International books: this means that the payment to police officers is at a deeper and more complicated than first appeared. In company law, such payments would be “a gross misuse of shareholders money”.

In Sir Paul Stephenson’s resignation statement there’s a concealed timebomb; a comparison between his employee (Wallis a former News of the World deputy editor) now arrested in the Hackergate probe, and the Prime Minister’s chief press officer, David Coulson (a former editor of the same newspaper).

Now let me turn to the reported displeasure of the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary of the relationship with Mr Wallis.

The reasons for not having told them are two fold. Firstly, I repeat my earlier comments of having at the time no reason for considering the contractual relationship to be a matter of concern. Unlike Mr Coulson, Mr Wallis had not resigned from News of the World or, to the best of my knowledge been in any way associated with the original phone hacking investigation.

That’s a barb and a half. As Robert Peston says

Stephenson statement implies that Met’s employment of Wallis was less controversial than David Cameron’s employment of Coulson

UPDATE 2; IS CAMERON NEXT? Stephenson explicitly compared his taking responsibility with Cameron’s lack of taking responsibility – an amazing comparison. The Labour Shadow Home Secretary, Yvette Cooper, has gone for the kill

It is striking that Sir Paul has taken responsibility and answered questions about the appointment of the Deputy Editor of the News of the World whereas the Prime Minister still refuses to recognise his misjudgement and answer questions on the appointment of the Editor of the News of the World at the time of the initial phone hacking investigation.

People will wonder at why different rules apply for the Prime Minister and the Met, especially when as Sir Paul said himself, unlike Andy Coulson, Neil Wallis had not been forced to resign from the News of the World.

It is also a very serious concern that the Met Commissioner felt unable to tell the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary about this operational issue with Neil Wallis because of the Prime Minister’s relationship with Andy Coulson.

Amazing times. This could go all the way up to the Prime Minister – a close friend of Rebekah Brooks. Even Iain Dale, a famous Conservative Blogger agrees; Could Cameron Be Next

I can’t believe I am even writing this, but it is no longer an impossibility to imagine this scandal bringing down the Prime Minister or even the government. OK, some of you reading this may think that last sentence is a deranged ranting, and you may be right. Indeed, I hope you are. But Sir Paul Stephenson launched a thinly veiled attack on David Cameron in his resignation statement and the Prime Minister is already on the ropes about the propriety of his relationship with Andy Coulson.

Now back to the original diary


To everyone’s surprise, police have just arrested the former Chief Executive of News International, Rebekah Brooks. Significantly she being questioned by detectives working on both Operations Weeting and Elveden: in other words.

They have arrested her on suspicion of both phone hacking (under the Phone Intercept Law) and corruption allegations.

This is key development, and puts James Murdoch next in the frame as per my previous diary – FALL OF THE HOUSE OF MURDOCH VI. Indeed, so dramatic was it that the best go to source for inside information on New International, Murdoch’s biographer Michael Wolff, could only emit the tweet “Jesus” at first. Now he adds this…

In 2008, during a two hour interview I did with Rebekah Brooks, she took seven phone calls from James Murdoch–that’s how often they spoke.

A Guardian Video from just seven days ago shows how close Brooks was to both James and Rupert who (rather than the hacked victims or 200 staff redundancies) said Rebekah was his ‘priority’

More on this story as it comes in.